54. Mr. Pizza

For my 66th birthday yesterday, I chose to go to Sorbillo for lunch, the Manhattan outpost of my daughter Maria’s favorite pizzeria in Naples. And authentic it was, with Italian-speaking staff and customers, and a pizzaiolo whose only words to us were “No speak English.”

It is hard to imagine a time when pizza was exotic here, but my mother told me that it wasn’t until American soldiers came back from Italy after World War II that anyone here had heard of it. Even in the 1960’s in Massachusetts, we had only one pizzeria in town, the Via Roma. The old Yankees called the owner “Mr. Pizza” to his face, so as not to be bothered with learning an unfamiliar-sounding name. (More horrifying, we also called the only black person in town “Blackie,” which is stunning to think of now in retrospect.)

Now of course, we are inundated with pizza options. One can’t walk down the street in New York without having choices at every turn.

My daughter tells me that when she worked in a summer camp in Italy, the children’s favorite pizza choice was “American,” meaning with hot dogs and French fries on top. Interesting that they have such low regard for American gastronomy that they think that’s how we eat. And interesting that the Italian children, with so many delicious, authentic options readily available to them, would opt for this instead.

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